Beware of Free

There’s a really interesting note in a post about Kindle sales on the Self-Published Author’s Lounge:

First of all, free does attract a lot of negative reviews.  I’m not the only author who’s noticed it and neither is this author.  I have another author friend who is shying away from putting anything else out for free because she doesn’t want to get the negative reviews.  Free does attract a heavy dose of criticism.  I still use free, though, because my skin really has gotten thick enough where I honestly don’t care anymore (this takes time to develop) and because free is still great for exposure.  But free isn’t the only marketing tool you can use, so if this is not something that appeals to you, don’t use it.  If you do use it, just be aware that negative reviews might happen at a heavier rate than they would if you kept a price tag on your book.

As we all know, people on the internet can be mean.  You’d think that people would be meaner if they actually had to shell out some money, but some people also like beating up on the little guy.  So if you release a book for free, the fact that it’s free is going to end up in the review.  This is actually a problem if you intend to set a book for free for a limited time and raise the price at a later date – that “free” review is still sitting there.

I’ve seen this phenomenon with my own book – which I’m now almost desperately trying to switch back to a price, but Smashwords is very slow to provide any assistance with contacting retailers to set the book to a price again.  I made the price change on Smashwords months ago.  They asked which retailers still had the book set at free (B&N, Kobo, Diesel) and to not contact those retailers directly.  No action since then.  So this is a problem.

Back to reviews: I’ve seen some bad reviews recently:

After reading this book I realize why it is free just a year after release.

But also some good reviews:

This is the first £0.00 ebook I’ve read that is GOOD!

Are Brits nicer than Americans?  A topic for another post.

Granted, I meant this novel to be sort of controversial, so it’s going to have widely varying reviews (and it has).  But it’s good to know that I’m not the only one facing this problem.

There are a lot of arguments for free as a promotional tool.  But this is something to consider when deciding on setting your book to free – especially since it’s so difficult to de-free your book after the period is over.

  • Thank you for the information. It would seem most beneficial to publish your books directly to Kindle and Nook since then you’d have more control over your content, still maintain the highest royalty possible and make adjustments as needed. After all, one of the appeals of publishing your own book is the creative control and ability to make quick changes if and when needed.

    • Definitely seems like a way to go. And in 2012, Kobo will also have a direct-publishing feature – and they’ve been notoriously slow keeping up with Smashwords’ distribution. I love Smashwords, but this is a pretty significant issue.

  • I didn’t mention this in the post because it didn’t seem to fit the subject, but another problem with free is that I’ve gotten a few emails from people who think just because one of my books is free, then my other books should be free, too, including my new ones. I’m not saying this happens a lot, but when it does, it feels like nails are going down the chalkboard. There are definitely cons involved with free, and I wish someone had pointed that out when I got started.

  • Thank you, Henry and Ruth Ann, for your experiments in offering your books for free. And I’m glad you’re honestly reporting back to the cowards in the rear such as myself: that isn’t the way to go.

  • I’ve had one of my full length novels for free for a long time, and it gets the complete spread of reviews from 1 star to 5 star from total hate to total love. Free does trigger worse reviews. Judging from the comments in the bad reviews, I often wonder what possessed the person the download it in the first place when he or she made comments criticizing the aspects that make it a fantasy book in the first place. One person even said my punctuation was wrong, and I assure you my punctuation is used correctly. A lot of it is just people being mean. I also suspect that some things in my narratives provoke people because I incorporate social issues. My most recent bad review was astoundingly unfair. However, I must say that free works for me because I write series. Substantially more people give my novels a try because of the free one than would if it was not free.

  • I have several problems with “free” especially the type of audience it tends to attract: people who will download anything, just because it’s free. Personally, I’d like someone to download my writing cause he / she is interested in learning more. Right now, I’m experimenting with Pay with a Tweet, which was mentioned here some weeks ago, as a way to gain some sort of engagement from the audience who downloads your book for free.

  • Why go free? I really like .99 and 1.99 books. You still make a commission and you eliminate the riff raff who always seem to complain about anything that’s “free.” Try lowering it to a bargain price rather than free. It’s more “respectable” and people like me will pay that for a decent book that has been out a while.

  • Boudica, I thank you and the other contributors to this eye-opening (to me, at least) conversation. I’ve assumed anybody truly interested in my fiction would be willing to pay $2.99 for an ebook and $9.99 for a POD. I’ve also gladly given both versions away for free, and I’m more than happy to do so for anybody who informs me they’re having a hard time paying their other bills. Maybe I should make that clear on my website. Maybe that’s the way for independent authors to go.

  • An author I helped (illustrator/editor) put one of the stories from her book on a free e-Book site; when she tried to change/cancel , she found she had given them rights to use..She has 12,000 downloads, but no one ever ordered a book as far as we can tell..OLD SAYING: once you give someone something for free, you will never get them to pay for another..human nature..if writers start giving free e-samples, the public will EXPECT free e-Books…..My advice: lets stop all free samples (including classics) before all us writers end up stocking shelves at Wal-mart….YOU HEAR me AMAZON/B & N.?

  • My first novel was free on smashwords for a while, once I got a few downloads I started selling it. it took a year but eventually I sold over ten thousand copies.

    Now I don’t have to give my books away